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    Press ReleaseIPU Logo-middle
No.151, Geneva, 18 February 2003 IPU Logo-bottom


More than 500 MPs from 75 national parliaments gathered in Geneva on 17 and 18 February 2003, on the occasion of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO jointly organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the European Parliament (EP). "Parliaments have a special role in making the international trading system more open, more equitable, more predictable and non-discriminatory. The IPU is convinced that parliamentary involvement can help make the WTO more transparent and inclusive, and therefore more widely understood and supported", declared the President of the IPU Council, Chilean Senator Sergio Páez.

"The past two years have been packed with important international events and developments, many of which have had a considerable impact on trade relations. The global challenge of terrorism, the prolonged decline of markets, the aggravation of regional conflicts, and the looming prospect of a war in Iraq continue to make headlines which leave nobody indifferent", added Mr. Páez.

He stressed that as politicians, members of parliament are keenly aware of the significance of these events. "As elected representatives of the people, we are also conscious of the growing sentiment of public discontent with the consequences of globalization and particularly with trade policies. For better or for worse, these policies are embodied by the WTO, which is often portrayed as the major tool for pushing globalization. In a democracy, such criticisms cannot be simply dismissed: they require dialogue and qualified answers".

"Providing the multilateral trade system with a process in which MPs
are able to express their ideas and concerns about multilateral trade"

The President of the Parliamentary Commission of Industry, Foreign Trade, Research and Energy of the European Parliament, Mr. Carlos Westendorp, recalled that for many years, MPs have wanted to give the multilateral trading system a process in which they, as representatives of the people, can express their ideas and concerns about multilateral trade. "For many years, we have been working with the IPU towards this objective; we are convinced that we have to give a parliamentary dimension to the WTO in order to increase its transparency and improve the democratic legitimacy of its activities".

Mr. Westendorp explained that the MPs gathered in Geneva would be debating major issues on the trade negotiating agenda and the need to promote free trade through clearly established rules.

Mr. Westendorp regretted that "trade negotiations are not progressing as we might wish. It is therefore very important that MPs from Member countries of the WTO send a firm message from this conference here in Geneva to the trade negotiators in order to give them a clear idea of what the representatives of the people are seeking ".

As to the idea of giving a parliamentary dimension to the WTO, Mr. Westendorp indicated that the MPs in Geneva would be looking at the most effective way to achieve their goal. "There are many options, one of them being, in the long term, to give WTO a permanent assembly, but there is another, this conference, which enables us to work together, maybe once a year, and on the occasion of WTO ministerial meetings, in order to keep track of WTO activities, continue the dialogue with government negotiators and exchange experiences and ideas that parliaments, as representatives of people, can transmit to the negotiators. We will inaugurate a process of meetings so that government negotiators can become aware of what the parliamentarians think"

"Parliamentarians can help explain the benefits of the trading system
and help citizens cope with the complexities of globalization"

The WTO Deputy Director General, Mr. Francisco Thompson-Flôres, said that "right from the beginning, parliamentarians were involved with the WTO. Parliaments had to ratify the results of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations before their governments could join the WTO. Since then, parliamentarians have regularly formed part of national delegations to ministerial conferences and parliamentary involvement with the WTO has intensified through initiatives such as the meetings of parliamentarians in Seattle and Doha and the IPU's conference on trade issues held two years ago in Geneva".

Mr. Thompson-Flôres added : "Seattle brought many lessons. Thankfully, the lessons were well-learnt as WTO Members and the Secretariat regrouped and began the long march to Doha and now on to Cancun. I believe we can all take pride in changes made to the way the WTO operates. We are now more inclusive in our processes and are doing much more to ensure smaller and poorer WTO Members can participate in our negotiations. We are cooperating with international and regional agencies more closely than ever before. We have made real progress too in our efforts to enhance the WTO's image and engage civil society".

In his concluding remarks, the WTO Deputy Director General said that parliamentarians could help explain the workings and benefits of the trading system, help citizens understand and cope with the complexities of globalization and encourage greater awareness and informed debate on international trade issues. "As legitimate representatives of the people, you provide an important interface between the people, civil society and governments".

Established in 1889 and with its Headquarters in Geneva, the IPU, the oldest multilateral organisation, currently has 144 affiliated national parliaments and five regional assemblies as associate members. The organisation of the world's parliaments also has a Liaison Office with the United Nations in New York.
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